Emerald aisles: the changing way we shop
Ireland’s supermarket sector was shaken this week by the scrapping of the Superquinn brand and closures of Marks & Spencer stores. But the retail revolution is only starting
Word cloud: the words Irish people use most online when talking about supermarkets. The larger the type, the more often the word is used. Source: Olytico
Irish people hate to speak ill of the dead, so the lavish praise heaped on Superquinn this week when the final nail was hammered into its coffin was hardly surprising. It was also misplaced.
An aura surrounded the store in the 1970s and 1980s, but the fairy dust that Feargal Quinn, its founder, routinely sprinkled over his shops over the 45 years he was in control dried up long ago. The name had arguably passed its best-before date even before the Quinn family cashed in their chips, in 2005, for €429 million.
Nostalgia is well and good, but numbers don’t lie. Between 2007 – just before the recession kicked in – and April 2013, Superquinn’s sales figures were in sharp decline. It had a small bounce this spring, but its market share, at just over 5 per cent, is down more than a third from its peak.
It used to be so different. “When we moved to Blanchardstown, in the late 1970s, Superquinn was our saviour,” says one loyal long-term customer, Breega McGrath. “It was always a pleasure to shop there, and it always had an intimacy even though it was on the surface just another supermarket. They had the same people working there for years and years, and it was friendly – like shopping in a country town.
“But it all started to go wrong when Feargal sold it,” she says. “It was given a facelift by the new owners, but it was still awful, and the staff on the shop floor dwindled. You could never find anything, and there was never anyone around to show you where things had been moved to.”
The same story of falling standards and rising prices has been told by many other one-time Superquinn shoppers this week. The challenge facing the Musgrave Group, which is discontinuing the brand and bringing the shops under its SuperValu label early next year, is clear, but the company seems confident that it can halt this downward spiral.
SuperValu has grown by 30 per cent over the past 10 years and has retail sales of just over €2 billion. Now it has subsumed Superquinn, one in four Irish consumers will shop in SuperValu’s 222 stores; it has become the second-biggest player in food retailing, having leapfrogged over Dunnes Stores with the Superquinn takeover. It is the only one of the big seven retailers – Aldi, Dunnes, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Superquinn, SuperValu and Tesco – with a quasi-franchise model, so its shops are more rooted in their communities than those of multinationals.
Last year SuperValu sold the equivalent of 95,000 cattle, 90,000 lambs and 12.5 million chickens – all of which were born, bred and reared in Ireland – worth €183 million. It also sold €156 million worth of Irish fruit and vegetables and €161 million worth of Irish dairy products. Each year its stores spend €75 million on products sourced from local suppliers, and individual retailers have the autonomy to put local products on their shelves.